12-IMG_4580Up nearly 13 percent from last year

Posted: Thursday, November 6, 2014
Lynn Hobbs lynn@msgr.com Smith Communications Inc.

Graduation rates for the Class of 2014 released by the Georgia Department of Education Oct. 30 show Putnam County High School’s rate is 81.5 – an increase of more than 12.7 percent from the 2013 rate of 72.3.

The PCHS rate also exceeds the overall state graduation rate of 72.5.

PCHS Principal Barry Lollis said school officials were given the information almost a week earlier, but it were not able to release it.

“The school leadership has been about to pop because we wanted to tell everybody,” he said last week. “I don’t know how to explain how excited I am.”

Putnam’s rate has risen each year since 2011, when it was 63.37; but this most recent gain of 9.2 points is the biggest jump. PCHS administrators and support staff served the faculty a celebratory lunch in the school’s café Friday.

“The PCHS faculty is an extraordinary cadre of educators. They work diligently to help all students find success in the manner that best suits each student,” Lollis said.

“As the principal, I am very proud of what our students and teachers are accomplishing,” he added, slipping in a “Go War Eagles!” exclamation at the end.

Lollis, who began as principal in July 2011, attributes the success to several factors, including the school system’s charter status, which provides flexibility that allows career pathways, dual enrollment and project-based learning.

“We’ve gotten farther and farther away from grouping students,” he explained. “So because we are focusing on students as individuals, they are getting to be a part of something they like and enjoy.”

Students participate in what they are learning, instead of just reading it in a book, Lollis said.

“So they want to do well,” he noted. “We’re finding ways for them to do something they like while still meeting the challenges of academics.”

From a news studio to a welding shop, performing arts theater to a JROTC shooting range, or culinary kitchen to an automotive shop, students have many options to find what they like.  And the new College and Career Academy, slated to open in January, will provide even more.

Giving an example of the level of “participation” students get in their classes, Lollis said he and CCA CEO Keith Ellenberg had just met with a vendor to order equipment for the CCA’s new alternative energy lab.

When the vendor showed them what other schools were using, Lollis said he and Ellenberg explained they did not want models.

“We said we are not teaching about it, we want the students to actually produce some alternative energy. We want to let them put what they make in a car and drive it,” Lollis said. “The vendor said, ‘Nobody else in the state is doing that.’

“To me, that’s what is helping with our graduation rate, because they can earn college credits, which has ramped up the rigor with academics, and it has ramped up the experience kids get in their electives,” Lollis said. “They’re not just reading about it and doing small-scale, tabletop experiments, they are learning how it’s actually done in industry.”

Noting PCHS’s high percentage of economically disadvantaged students (78 percent) and students with disabilities (13 percent), Lollis said the increase in academic achievement is “really good.”